DULUTH, Ga. — With the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament being played just an hour away from his team’s campus, Georgia coach Andy Landers decided to put his team on lockdown to avoid distractions.
Then the Lady Bulldogs went out and threw a hammer lock on LSU.
The team that began LSU’s seven-game winning streak was the team that emphatically ended it Friday night, as No. 12-ranked Georgia bounced the Lady Tigers out of the SEC quarterfinals with a 71-53 drubbing at the Gwinnett Center.
The loss sent No. 22 LSU (20-11) home to await an all-but-certain at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The 64-team field will be announced March 18.
“I know we fell short of one of our goals, which was to advance and continue to play in this tournament,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “But this team has definitely been a team of many surprises, and I’m still proud of this group. They’re a great bunch of young ladies. We have enjoyed each other, and there is still more basketball to be played.”
Should the Lady Tigers get in the NCAA tournament, they would be guaranteed to play at home in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, which will host first- and second-round games March 24 and 26.
Third-seeded Georgia improved to 25-5 and moved on to a semifinal matchup Saturday with No. 2 seed Kentucky, a 76-65 winner earlier Friday over Vanderbilt.
LSU, the No. 6 seed, came into the tournament with just eight players.
That roster became thinner still when center Shanece McKinney left with a head injury after falling to the court with 6:25 left in the first half.
McKinney began throwing up shortly thereafter, according to team spokesman Bill Martin, and remained in the locker room during the second half.
The loss of McKinney left LSU to finish with seven players. Caldwell said she did not immediately know whether McKinney would be able to return with the team Saturday to Baton Rouge.
“We will monitor her,” Caldwell said. “She took a hard fall. You don’t want to run a risk when you’re dealing with anything with the head.”
It was the second straight year that LSU leaves the SEC tournament with a head injury to one of its starters. Former Lady Tiger LaSondra Barrett took an inadvertent knee to the head from a Tennessee player in last year’s championship game and suffered a concussion.
Deprived of its best low post defender, LSU had little hope of reprising that 2012 run. Forward Jasmine Hassell worked the Lady Tigers over inside, pouring in a game-high 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
Not that LSU had much hope to begin with.
Georgia even controlled the opening tip and quickly proceeded to drain a pair of 3-pointers by Tiaria Griffin and Jasmine James.
A 3-pointer by Theresa Plaisance at the buzzer to end the first half gave LSU a glimmer of hope down 40-30. But Georgia scored the first five points of the second half, and the Lady Tigers never got within double digits again.
“We beat a very good basketball team that played very, very well lately,” said Landers, who shielded his players from family and friends and the tournament site until Friday night’s game.
“I was pleased with the way our team focused in their preparation for this game. They knew what they wanted to do, and we went out and basically did that for the better part of 40 minutes.”
Senior guard Adrienne Webb led LSU with 16 points on 4-of-8 3-point shooting. Plaisance added 13 points — but only two in the second half on a pair of late free throws.
“Give all the credit to Georgia,” Webb said. “They set the tone and came out with high intensity. We kind of dug ourselves a hole and couldn’t bounce our way back out.”
The last time LSU and Georgia met during the regular season, it was under quite different circumstances.
LSU was 13-10 and facing desperation having lost a pair of home games to Texas A&M and Tennessee. Its NCAA hopes fading rapidly, the Lady Tigers responded with a 62-54 upset of the then-No. 9 Lady Bulldogs.
LSU proceeded to reel off six more wins, including two over No. 8 Kentucky and No. 13 Texas A&M, to get back in the national rankings for the first time since early in the 2011-12 season and virtually assure itself of an NCAA bid.
“We never lost faith,” Plaisance said.
They did lose the game, though. Now the Lady Tigers return home with the goal of putting off their next loss as long as possible.